Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Some T stations to be unstaffed at night?

A customer service agent told me that some T stations, including Davis and the outbound side of Central Square, will be unstaffed every night starting this Saturday. She wasn't sure whether the last station agent would leave at 7 pm or 10 pm.

Needless to say, she doesn't think this is a good idea, and neither do I. Anyone know more?

Friday, March 16, 2007

saying goodbye to the Boeing Green Line cars

(Globe Photo / Jodi Hilton)
Now, after years of being cannibalized for spare parts, the Boeings -- which first hit the rails on Dec. 29, 1976 -- are making just one trip a day on the D branch of the Green Line. Only two are used on any given day.

"If we get one good trip out of it, we feel good," said Peter Messina, chief inspector at Riverside. "It's like having an old person around, you know? They can only walk so much. They can only go so far. I came on the job before they were here, and they're going to retire before me."

The last trips were scheduled for today, but snow could cancel them.

Most of the remaining trolleys will be disassembled by backhoe for scrap metal. One car may go to a trolley museum in Maine, and about six could find new life scraping slush off overhead trolley lines.
originally written in January

There are only a few left in service and as Breda finally delivers the last cars in an order than has been a saga in itself for over 9 years, the infamous Boeing cars will soon be retired. The Green Line cars numbered in the 34-3500's were supposed to be the future when they were introduced in late 1976. They were the first new streetcars bought by the T since 1951 and they were a disaster. But in this case the T wasn't at fault.

The Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation decided that the MBTA and the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) should work together in producing a new generation of streetcar. What wound up happening was that both the T and MUNI were forced to accept things they didn't want in the new cars so it would be able to run on both systems. The contract was put out to bid and was awarded to a helicopter manufacturer Boeing-Vertol and the order would be for 250 cars (150 for Boston). The one major difference in the order was that Boston would have air conditioning something not needed in San Francisco.

In Boston there were problems with derailments, power failures and doors (which had over 1300 parts) closing unexpectedly on passengers. In San Francisco they found that only 2 of the 3 doors could function in the Market Street Subway. The T sued Boeing-Vertol for the repairs and won $34 million dollars in damages.and Boeing in turn was able to convince San Francisco to buy 40 of the cars that the T no longer wanted. The T tested a Canadian made LRV for 3 months in 1980 but in the end decided to build their next cars from scratch. Eventually the new design would become the
Type 7 cars manufactured by Kinki-Sharyo of Japan (numbered in the 36-3700's) starting in 1986 and for the most part the T only ran the remaining Boeing cars during rush hour. The Kinki cars proved to be very reliable and the T bought 20 more 10 years later. San Francisco decided to replace their Boeings with cars manufactured by an Italian company named Breda. Boston then decided that instead of ordering the new Type 8 cars 10 years ago from Kinki-Sharyo that they as well would use Breda which has proven to be a disaster equal to the Boeings. The Breda cars were supposed to be fully delivered in 1998 but the T will take final delivery sometime in 2007 on the remaining cars.

Still there is a certain nostalgia concerning the Boeing cars though they will never be as beloved as the old PCC cars they replaced. They were a part of Boston for 30 years but it is time to say goodbye to them. Those interested can read more on the MBTA's problems with streetcars in an article written some 9 years ago by Scott Moore. The last words in the article proved to be incorrect and we the riders continue to suffer.

The new cars are expected to arrive sometime in 1997 or 1998. With the MBTA planning on keeping the LRVs until 1999, it is possible that the system has learned from the mistakes of the past, and will be much more careful when purchasing rail-cars in the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - March 15th

trying to catch up on the mail at

Stephanie writes about Charlie refunds

In November, I bought a Charlie Ticket for use on the Green line so I would not have to use tokens. Unfortunately, no one had told me that tickets were not accepted on the green line. By advise of a T agent, I sent a charlie ticket in for a refund in November so that I could buy tokens. After numerous calls (and rude responses including "too bad, people who sent their tickets in June are still waiting for refunds"), I reached the "proper" person. Someone named Barbara? She said that tickets were non-refundable and that T agents were making things up by telling people that they could get refunds. After that, it was announced that Charlie Cards were soon to be released. I found out that Charlie tickets could be changed into Charlie cards. After numerous tries, I reached her again and requested by Charlie Ticket back so I could turn it into a Charlie Card. She told me to call her back on January 31 if I still had not received my charlie ticket. I also tried the MBTA "write to the top". After an apology letter for not returning my email for several months, I get a response saying that my email has been forwarded. Since then, I have not heard anything from the "write to the top" and I have not been able to reach Barbara. She never returns phone calls and she never picks up. Sometimes her answering machine is completely full. It is now March 14 and still nothing. I was wondering if anyone might be able to give me the contact information of someone who might be able to help me get my refund or my charlie ticket back. It seems that other people on the website are more successful than I am at getting refunds. I am owed $16.25.

Since this fiasco started the T has opened a new Customer Service Department so you might want to contact them and see if they can figure out what is going on. I know the T watches the blog so maybe that will help as well. Let us know what happens

Paul writes

tried to search for these answers on your site, as an FYI.

I was wondering if anyone has posted in regards to the new CHARLIE gates not opening very well or quickly when people come up to them.


has anyone ever commented on the escalator etiquette (stand on the right, unless you are passing) and how the MBTA subways cars could actually fit more people on them, if passengers removed their bags and backpacks from their backs/shoulders?

The slow faregates have been mentioned several times. There doesn't seem to be a uniform standard on how they open.

Your other points are common sense which sadly is lost on many riders.

Mike wants to pass on a link

Saw your recent posts about SF, Chicago, and Boston… and thought I would send this link along.

Think of it as mapquest for public transit.
Thanks Mike. I am sure many will find it useful.

and David has some concerns about the blog

I like your Charlie on the MBTA blog, but lately the entire tone has just become nothing but complaints. When I first started reading it I was compelled by the fact that it wasn't just the classic Boston/MBTA blog where people write in and relentlessly complain about their commutes, etc. If people are so fired up about issues that they think should be fixed on the T they should write the T and if that doesn't work, their elected representatives, the governor, etc. Get results oriented, or quit complaining.

I liked your piece on the trolley cars you saw in San Fran, and some of the other pieces you have done on the history of the T, how the T runs, etc. Those tend to get responses from people who want to discuss transit, rather than just complain. I know a blog is just somewhere people can post their opinions, but maybe there is something that can be done to set the tone. Alternatively, if the blog is designed to solicit opinions for public action, perhaps you could incorporate an element to actually facilitate that happening, such as on-line petitions, that could actually be conveyed to a public official. Again, I like your blog and appreciate the hard work you put into it. I just hope it does not deteriorate into a message board of complaints that no one follows up on.
Thanks David for the note.

Obviously people tend to write more when something goes wrong but we have encouraged people to tell GOOD T stories as well.

I hope as we evolve that some of your ideas will start to happen. One reason I have been reporting on other cities is to show the MBTA is not alone with problems but perhaps they can learn from how other cities cope with moving people around.

Charlie sees America the Amtrak way.....

One forgets just how big the USA is until you go coast to coast in one trip on Amtrak.

I left San Francisco at 8:20 AM on Sunday morning and arrived at South Station Wednesday evening at 7 PM.

The first day of the trip was enjoyable as the train went thru the Sierra Nevada mountain range on a perfect day and a California railroad museum had a narrator between Sacremento and Reno.

Then a long trip thru the Nevada desert as the train was forced to travel no faster than 30 because of track work being done by the Union Pacific. Monday brought Utah and Western Colorado on another perfect day but we were running 5 hours late.

Tuesday we awoke in Omaha and then spent the rest of the day traveling through Iowa and Illinois arriving in Chicago at 7:35 PM giving me 20 minutes to make the Boston train.

Wednesday at 7 AM we were forced to leave the train in Buffalo and take a shuttle bus to Albany as the tracks were closed because of a major accident near Syracuse. Trust me riding a bus after being on a train for 3 days is not fun.

My bags decided to stay in Chicago and hopefully will arrive today.....

Still I would highly recommend that everybody do the cross country trip ONCE....

Last Boeing LRV run will be on Friday March 16th

Charlie is back in Boston exhausted after almost 4 days on Amtrak (more on that later)..... and can report that Iowa is boring

2 months ago we wrote about the end coming for the Boeing LRV's on the Green Line and that day has arrived.

WEATHER PERMITTING the final Boeing revenue run will leave Riverside at 11 AM on Friday with the return trip scheduled to leave Government Center at 11:40 AM.

MBCR replies to Worcester Line service complaint

Kelly Crosby complained to MBCR about consistently late trains on the Worcester Line:

I have been very happy with the results I have received from this form in the past, and hope to get an answer now.

I understand why the Framingham / Worcester line has so many problems; I knew its situation when I started riding it. Most of the time, service is acceptable.

However, I have one question. I take the 7:07am train out of Worcester daily (boarding at Ashland and riding to South Station.) I take the 4:58pm Worcester express home (exiting at Ashland.) I have been riding these trains for many moons now, and they are consistently 10 to 15 minutes late. I have come to accept that this is just the way it is, but my question is this: why does the MBTA not update the schedules to allow for these extra daily delays? Are the schedules posted for the Worcester line just goals? Why not just say that the 7:07am train will arrive in South Station at 8:35 (as it consistently does) rather than aim for 8:23am, which is, frankly, impossible?

I am not trying to be rude or complain about a certain incident. My fellow passengers and I discuss this often and would truly like a valid response. We would be a lot less frustrated if the schedules were updated and followed accurately, even if it meant admitting that the trains would be arriving later.

Linda Dillon of MBCR Customer Service replied:

I have read your email concerning the scheduling of trains on the Worcester Line.

Please allow me to attempt to explain the rather unique situation we encounter on this line.

Scheduling trains is a difficult process, and with each review that is done prior to a change, a number of factors are taken into consideration. With some trains, or train times, crew and equipment availability is a problem. In other areas, we have to balance our schedules with other companies, whether passenger rail or freight. Of course in this instance, on the Worcester Line, I am sure you are well aware that we are at the mercy of CSX, the owner/operator of this line; whether it is a matter of imposed speed restrictions, the times that they are running their freight trains, or the ongoing track work along the Worcester main line. There is also the impact that changing the time of one train will have to not only other trains on the line, but along the system as well. Many lines share stops as they come closer to Boston, so there must be some balance between the trains.

I have forwarded your comments about the Worcester Line trains to personnel in the Operations and Planning Department, to be considered in future discussions.

While I realize that I have not provided a solution, I do apologize for the frequent inconveniences and hope that this information is helpful.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A reader writes: Disappointed in Mac Daniel's column today

[Until Charlie returns from the West Coast, I'll be occasionally fillling in for him. -- Ron Newman]

From today's mailbag:

Hi Charlie on the M(B)TA,

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to the Globe today. Nothing new
in it, but I was really dumbfounded by the silly Starts & Stops
column this morning

BTW, I'm a native SF-er who's lived in Boston for the past three
years. Glad you liked "my" city and its transit system. BART is far
better than commuter rail (hey -- it may be dirty, but at least the
lights work!), and I think is a good model for an commuter-friendly,
region-wide system.

MUNI has gotten a lot better over the last 10 years; former mayor
Willie Brown set out to fix it, and I think he did a pretty good
job. Shows that maybe even the stodgy ol' MBTA could be given a

Jon Roberts
Boston, MA

Date: March 11, 2007 9:32:05 AM PDT
Subject: Disappointed in reporting

Dear Mr. Daniel,

I enjoy your column and the "transport beat" that you have at the
Globe. But I'm starting to wonder where the teeth are in your
articles. In today's Starts & Stops, you mention three people who
complained to the T, but whose complaints the T has no record of.
A new customer service system "may" be the issue for having, it
would seem, systematically tossed complaint letters in the trash?
Why let it go at that? Why not ask the next five or ten questions
that naturally follow on?

It seems that of all the local travesties, the T is handled with
the "kiddest" of gloves. Massport, the Turnpike Authority, and
others all get a good grilling, but the T is let off with their
spokespeople saying "oh, good point, we'll look into it.".

I think the Globe really needs to turn its eye to some of the
fundamental issues at the T. A few that pop right to mind:

* Why is customer service responsiveness so poor? Why does the T
feel so unaccountable to its customers and to the media?

* Why are projects so delayed? Kenmore Station? Charles Street?

* Why is service so spotty? The boarding delays with Charlie on
the Green line? Commuter rail cars with no heat or lights?

* Are funds being spent properly?

These are important local issues that deserve strong investigative
reporting. The T isn't the Kremlin; it's a taxpayer-funded,
service-providing, fully accountable agency. I would hope Globe
would treat it as such.

Jon Roberts
Boston, MA

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Charlie is on the way home ( but it may take awhile)

I have no idea on when the blog will next update as I head home on Amtrak starting at 9 AM out of Emeryville, CA and start the long trip east.

The train is "supposed" to arrive in Chicago at 3 PM on Tuesday and then I connect to the train to Boston 5 hours later.....but

Amtrak concedes that Train #6 from California does not make it back in time to connect to the Eastern trains so I may not be back at South Station until THURSDAY!!! If things go well with the connection in Chicago I will be back in Boston Wednesday evening.

However please continue to email us at and if something major develops will will somehow find a way to update the blog.

Thanks all for your support and may everyone have good commutes next week.

last words from San Francisco

This is my last night in San Francisco and will be on the long trip home by Amtrak starting tomorrow (Sunday)

While the locals may complain about it for the most part public transportation in the Bay Area is quite good. The only drawback I can see is that you have many separate transportation agencies and transferring between them can be a little complicated. The systems have been working on a unified smartcard system but now it appears BART is going off on their own and it is unclear if the BART card will work on the other systems.

BART is showing its age ( now over 30 years old ) and the system is showing wear and tear especially on the rail cars. I did find the vending machines easy to use and trains came quickly when the real time signs said they would.

The MUNI system in San Francisco uses streetcars, trackless trolleys, buses and of course the famous cable cars. The buses on average are older than Boston but I never had to wait too long for one and they can climb the hills in this city. They also have real time info on some routes in the bus shelters which was quite helpful.

Overall I found getting around the area easy by public transportation.

SF Mayor considers making transit free

As I wrap up my time in California I saw this story in the San Francisco Chronicle

Mayor tells Muni to investigate eliminating fares
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has asked transit officials to study eliminating fares on city buses, streetcars and cable cars -- a plan that if enacted would be the largest such experiment in the nation.

"If it could happen anywhere, it could happen in San Francisco," said Newsom, who said free transit could lure people out of their cars and cut traffic.

No major transit agency in America has a systemwide free-fare policy. But more than a dozen cities -- including Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City -- offer free rides in their downtown business corridors. The small East Bay city of Emeryville provides free bus shuttle service around town and to and from an Oakland BART station.

I hope to have more on transit in the Bay Area later but it is obvious that fare evasion is a HUGE problem in San Francisco.

Meanwhile BART has a fare evasion problem as well
BART losing revenue through ticket scams - Recent fraud find: Manipulation of magnetic strip
He and others on the BART management team are banking on new technology, so-called smart cards. The cards, which resemble credit cards, are embedded with microprocessor chips that can be used for various transactions, such as adding and deducting value on a transit ticket. Officials believe they are more secure than magnetic strips.

BART hopes to have the new system in place within two years. People would be able to use the smart cards to pay for parking at station lots and for BART rides. The chips could be expanded beyond cards and made even more user-friendly by embedding them in cell phones and watches.

and BART riders grumble that their trains are dirty
The dirty little secret about BART is out: Trains aren't as clean as passengers want them to be.

A new customer satisfaction survey commissioned by BART found increasing dissatisfaction over the trains' grimy interiors.

"It's not at all a surprise to us,'' said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

Past budget cuts, he said, meant less money for cleaning crews. The decision was made to sacrifice cleanliness to focus resources on making the trains run on time, Johnson said. He said the agency is moving to replenish the work force of 77 car-cleaning positions, which had been down 10 workers at one point.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - March 9th

checking the mailbag at

I have been having some problems with my wireless card in California so that is the reason the blog has been updating later in the day back East as I have been forced to use the San Francisco Public Library ( which is quite nice and modern )

Andy thinks the "new" North Station could be better
I know this is ungrateful, especially after the T worked so hard to improve the plight of space-constrained North Station commuters...but I have a question/complaint about the cosmetics of the new and improved station.

What's with the black and tan ceiling and walls? The gray columns? Why the stygian darkness? Perhaps it complements the outer decor of the platforms and provides an optical transition as one hustles to or from the brightly lit inner hallway. It will hide the dirt. Maybe the T doesn't want people hanging around, clogging up the waiting area. I doubt there's much potential for that. But I don't think it would have hurt to use brighter hues, even a little white to turn a gloomy space into a less gloomy space.

The North Station do-over had a lot of potential for dulling my South Station envy, but so far I'm not sure we made much progress here.

I'd be happy to volunteer on the paint detail if the T should change its mind. I also know a real 'fab' interior decorator who can work miracles. One is needed here.

Andy from Ipswich

The T is not responsible for North Station. The new improvements were done by the Delaware North Company of Buffalo who owns the Garden. Hopefully it will be a bit brighter when the new retail shops that are promised open.

Amy wonders what is causing slowdowns on the Orange Line
Hi Charlie,
I've been riding the orange line ever since I can remember, and
recently I've noticed that, going inbound and outbound between
Sullivan Square and Community College, the train slows down
considerably. At this part in the track, the train is on a bridge and
its leaning quite a bit to one side. It's always leaned like that but
never gone so slow over that one part as it has in the past few
months. Any reason for this?
Love your blog!
I don't have the answer but I am pretty certain somebody will let us know in short order.

Ian writes in about the T's trip planner

I'm a huge fan of your blog, and especially of the Boston Transit Camp idea, which I think would be a lot of fun. I wanted to write you with a quick comment about the T's new web site.

It's obvious that the T (or TransitWorks; whoever is in charge of the site) wanted to give the new that "Web 2.0" look and feel, so they went ahead and built a new trip planner that uses Google Maps to show routes and station/stop locations. It's a great idea, and I'm sure it looked great on paper, but as we all know their implementation leaves much to be desired.

Earlier today I was reading the official Google Blog and I almost jumped out of my seat. There was a post about the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival ( wherein the author mentioned that they've added Austin, TX to the Google Transit Trip Planner. (!?!?!)

Yes, that's right, Google built their own Public Transit trip planner. It's been around for a while, too -- here's the official launch announcement from December 2005 (

Currently it only contains information for transit agencies in 10 cities, but if you read the FAQ ( they very clearly outline the process by which agencies can make their own data available to Google:
"4. My agency has public transportation data for my city; how can I get it included in the Google Transit Trip Planner?"If you're at a public agency that oversees public transportation for your city and would like your data to be included, please contact us at

The Google Transit Feed Specification describes how to provide transit data in a format that Google Transit Trip Planner can use."So while they were busy attempting to reinvent the wheel, the T could easily have just handed their data over to Google and let the search company do all the work for them. I'm willing to bet this wouldn't have cost them a penny, and when all was said and done they would've had a system that, in addition to properly calculating routes, would even compare the cost of the trip with the approximate cost of making the same trip in a car. Instead we have a poorly-coded, poorly-tested clunk-factory that hates Fridays and wants to route every Red Line rider through JFK.


I have no doubt that the smart people in Mountain View, CA could have devised a first class trip planner.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

TransitWorks needs E Line riders to help

from Mac Daniels blog at

E branch Travel Diaries
TransitWorks is recruiting volunteers who ride the Green Line's E branch and take notes. Volunteers will record the quality of trips on the E branch during the week of April 1 to 7.

Kate Lowe at TransitWorks wrote that participants may even be able to win a real, live Breda car (smiley face thing inserted here). To participate, you must sign-up for a brief training session on Tuesday, March 27th at 3:30 OR 5:30 p.m. in the Longwood Medical Area.

For more information or to sign-up, contact TransitWorks at 617-557-7349 or

You can also visit their website at

Charlie's Mailbag - March 8th

A warm welcome to CTA Tattler readers who might be visiting after reading about us there. Our post on Chicago can be found here Charlie on the CTA

Checking the mailbag at

Molly writes about the Orange Line

My name is Molly, and this is a copy of the e-mail I just sent "to the
top" of the Orange Line, as the customer comment page will not submit
(which may have more to do with this computer than the T).

Good morning,

The customer comment submission page is either not working or my
browser will not support the submission, so I am writing to you.

This morning, my partner and I were at the Roxbury Crossing T stop to
head to work. The elevator was apparently having some work done, but
there was neither a sign on the elevator nor an update on the
accessibility hotline.

My partner currently has a broken foot, and even without that, she has
mobility issues; she can walk, but stairs are difficult and dangerous
for her. When we asked the T employee on duty, we were told the
elevator wouldn't be working for an hour and were asked if we actually
needed it, which I believe is not something that is supposed to be

Fortunately, the man who was working on the elevator got it to work
for us, but we missed two trains while we were waiting and we were
both late to work because of this. I would request that employees be
reminded that just because people are not in wheelchairs does not mean
that they can take stairs and that if an elevator or escalator is out
of service, for any reason, that it be clearly marked and that the
hotline be kept current.

Thank you.
It does seem that with the frigid weather both escalators and elevators are breaking down at an alarming rate. I still can't believe the T gave the new contract to repair them to the same Finnish company that failed to provide good service in the past.

You might try contacting KONE direct at their US HQs in Illinois

Kelly grumbles about the Framingham-Worcester line.....AGAIN!!!!

I guess I shouldn't even bothering writing in about the 707am inbound Worcester train this morning that was 15 minutes late and had no heat and no lights? The conductor actually made an announcement as we proceeded into the tunnel at Back Bay to “grab your stuff now, because it’s about to be really dark in here!” Um, shouldn’t all train at least have emergency track lighting? And, did I mention it was 13 degrees out this morning?

Thank you for letting me vent. I have also sent this in to the MBTA, but I don’t expect much. At least you are listening.

Kelly hopefully somebody at the T is reading this.

MBCR and the T can blame CSX for the delays on the line but MBCR is responsible for the heat and lights. The service was never this bad when Amtrak ran the Commuter Rail but they no longer wanted to do business with the T.

Susan froze waiting for an E train last night

Some trains on the E line were running "express" last night around 9pm,
driving past all the above ground stops near Longwood and the MFA. It
was in the single digits with below zero windchills, while people
waited for over 15, 20 minutes for a train..... The best part was
seeing the train skip my stop, leaving people out in the cold, and then

If the purpose of these express trains is to make up time when they are
running late, I fail to see how doing this on above ground stops helps.
There are still stop lights every block. If you're going to stop at
those, you might as well pick up some frostbitten passengers while
you're at it. Seeing an EMPTY train go by without stopping when you are
freezing to death outside should qualify as reckless endangerment on
the T's part. Of course the response is always "there's another train
right behind us", but "right behind us" means another 5 minutes in the
cold tacked onto the 15 you've already waited. This is more than just
an inconvenience when you are waiting outside. It is dangerous. In this
kind of frigid weather you can easily get frostbite in less than 30

Thanks for posting these stories on your blog. We can only hope that
the T reads them and actually cares.
Yes Susan, we can only hope.....

A lost trolley?????

I just happened to run into this trolley this morning on Market Street in San Francisco.
The City of San Francisco runs a vintage streetcar line down Market Street that then continues to Fisherman's Wharf and each car is painted with another city's transit colors. Car 1059 is painted to look like a car from the mid 1940's when the Boston system was known as the Boston Elevated Railway.
A dreamer like myself would love to see a vintage streetcar line connecting North and South Stations with stops along Atlantic Avenue but I doubt we will ever see anything like this in Boston.
For more info on the San Francisco vintage streetcar line CLICK HERE

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

MBTA retiree accused of skimming $40,700

MBTA video allegedly shows a retired employee who came regularly to turn in stolen coins and tokens for CharlieCards. (Jodi Hilton for the Boston Globe)

One of the reasons that the T decided to install the Charlie system was because under the old token method the system was being robbed blind over the past 25 years.

Still this story amazes me that a retired T employee would risk his pension ( and possibly his freedom ) .

MBTA retiree accused of skimming $40,700

I actually first saw the story last night on the 11 PM news in San Francisco (KPIX)

Charlie's Mailbag - March 6th

Greetings from San Francisco where the Commuter Rail info signs work ( and they are from the same company that made the T's )

Catching up on reader email at

Glenn from Cambridge is fed up with Davis Station
Are we powerless to deal with the MBTA - a truly underperforming public transit system? Is it because, here in the "regulation and punishment" capital of America, things can't be made too convenient for the sinning public?

I'm fed up with the MBTA and Davis Square especially. It's not only the average of 1-2 dysfunctional escalators on any given day at Davis; it's not even the function of problemmatic gates that don't always open - again, at Davis; it isn't even my anger that the $50 I put into a paper Charlie Card can't be converted to my plastic card except at one station - and how does one get a plastic card if you weren't lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to obtain one; it isn't even that apparently smoking is allowed on the platforms in the morning as long as you're at the extreme end of the platform (at least at Davis and Downtown Crossing).

It's the MBTA attitude - you have a problem and mention it to the maitre 'd at the station (formerly the toll booth monitor) and you get an explanation of "Here's why it's not my fault." or even better "Call your state legislator." Or, it's made clear that you should mind your own business while "I'll look into it" is the blah reply.

Why in hell can't we have a decent subway system where the escalators work, the stations are well built and maintained and don't reek of some stench, and people actually look like they're working?

By the way, my daily commute includes the Red Line to Downtown Crossing, Orange Line to State, and Blue Line from there. On average, during any given day, there's an average of two broken escalators. Who the hell maintains these things? Who makes sure they deliver? And what's with the Orange Line timetables. Are trains on this line much fewer than on other lines for a particular reason: like why should the MBTA care about Roxbury? Could it be more obvious?

My work takes me to Washington where the stations are clean and the trains are well maintained (and, so, the riders respect them). We can go right to the National Airport terminal quickly instead of lengthy subway rides to Logan. Trains run on time and predictably, including electronic notices of how far away the train is. Staff are courteous.

If only the Romney people had gone after the MBTA employee unions the way they persecuted teachers, and held the MBTA to 14 layers of regulation and oversight like they do with schools, we might have seen improvements.

And, finally, can't someone a) fix the train and station sound systems so people can hear what's being currently mumbled to them, and b) give some public speaking lessons to whomever broadcasts the stuff so they're polite, clear, and helpful?

And it's $1.70 to $2.00 for a ride depending on whether you're lucky enough to have a card? Enjoy Canada.
Actually it is California where I am and I won't tell you how warm it is in San Francisco today . The escalators systemwide are a mess and have been for a few years and yet the T gave the new contract to the same Illinois company that couldn't do it right in the first place. Real time train announcements is an issue I have harped on and the T has refused to answer any requests I have made for updates.

I'll have a report on San Francisco transit in a couple of days.

Daniel like many was very cold waiting on the D Line Tuesday morning

Making passengers wait 30-plus minutes in single-digit weather, only to then subject many of them to trains too full to board, is absolutely inexcusable, yet that was my experience this morning on the D line inbound at Beaconsfield. When I arrived at the platform at approximately 8:20, there were 30 or so people waiting, which I took to be a good sign. It meant that I didn't just miss the train.

By 8:35 the platform had probably accumulated 75 very cold people, and by 8:45 the number was easily over 100, not counting the many who gave up and walked to the C-line.

We watched three outbound trains come and go before an inbound train arrived at around 8:55, already very full. I was one of the fortunate ones, able to board the second car. As we pulled out of the station there were still a couple dozen people who were not as lucky, and I can only hope that another train was close behind.

At each subsequent station, the story was the same. The train arrived and sometimes fewer than half the wating passengers were able to squeeze on.

I have no doubt that the same cold that made waiting unbearable was also responsible for the delay. But leaving people waiting in dangerously cold weather with no word on the status of the delay is irresponsible. It would have been more than simple for one of the outbound conductors to yell to the platform that inbound service had been delayed, and then we could have all walked to the C line or made other arrangements.

Doing nothing should not have been an option.
I also had reports that riders were waiting 20 minutes at Newton Center.

Brad comments on Sunday's Globe column by Mac Daniel


Mac Daniel caves into the T again with his report on Kenmore being 10 months behind. This is unbelievable! Of course, he allows Joe Pesaturo to place blame on the city for permit problems. Why did it take 10 months to figure out that this project is clearly behind? I guarantee it won't be done on time for the new completion date. It was also mentioned in the article that the contractor would recieve more $$$ to get the project done. Not shocking at all that another project goes overbudget and more friends of the T (contractors) get more money.

Kenmore is going to be a mess on Red Sox Opening Day and it will only get worse when the D Line has the shutdown later in the summer. I would love to know why the City of Boston and the T seem to have problems with subway projects as permit problems have also delayed construction at State Street on the Blue Line.

Frank has a question about his Senior smartcard
My wife and I have updated our senior passes. On an on-going basis how can we determine how much money is left on each card?

Frank you can always check the remaining value at any fare vending machine and the amount remaining on the card will display on the upper right hand corner of the screen after you tap your card. To check on a monthly pass simply hit the card information button from the menu.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

FYI: blog will next update on Tuesday

Charlie continues his vacation and will be without a computer the next 48 hours or so as I will be on Amtrak's California Zephyr. I have always wanted to see the Rockies by train and I have the time to do so. I am supposed to arrive in Emeryville, CA on Monday evening around 6 PM but I have been told this train has not been on time once in the last year.

Please continue to send your commuter reports to If anything major develops I will try to have someone update the blog. I will have email access on the trip via my cell phone ( I hope )

Have a good weekend.

T Tales: The T's trip planner strikes again

Jared writes us at All he wanted to do was go from Brookline to South Station.
As if you don't already get this enough, you've got a great blog going. I'm originally from the San Francisco Bay Area so witnessing all the ridiculousness that goes on with the MBTA has been pretty eye-opening.

At any rate, I have a story to share. A friend of mine was arriving in Boston at the Greyhound station in Chinatown and I was supposed to go pick her up. No problem, I thought. I punched in my station (Brookline Village) and the address of the bus station (700 Atlantic Ave) and let the trip planner do its thing. Since the trip planner defaults to "Minimize transfers," this is what it gave me:

Itinerary 1 - Approx. 31 mins.

* Take Green- D Line - Government Ctr To Boylston Station
Approx. 1:41 PM Depart from Brookline Village Station - Inbound
Approx. 1:56 PM Arrive at Boylston Station - Inbound
*Walk For 16 Mins. To 700 Atlantic Ave, Boston, Ma

Alright, fair enough. That seems pretty simple. Except I didn't like the "Walk For 16 Mins." thing. That seemed like kind of a drag, especially since I'm not from Boston and have no idea how to get around. So I tried it again, this time selected "Minimize walking," and hit submit. Well, I got some fairly different results the second time.

Itinerary 1 - Approx. 52 mins.

* Take Green- D Line - Government Ctr To Park St Station
Approx. 1:41 PM Depart from Brookline Village Station - Inbound
Approx. 1:57 PM Arrive at Park St Station - Green Line Eastbound
* Take Red Line - Braintree Sta To Jfk/umass Braintree - Outbound
Approx. 2:06 PM Depart from Park St Station - to Ashmont/Braintree
Approx. 2:16 PM Arrive at JFK/UMASS Braintree - Outbound
* Take Red Line - Alewife Sta To South Station
Approx. 2:23 PM Depart from JFK/UMASS Braintree - Inbound
Approx. 2:30 PM Arrive at South Station - Inbound
* Walk For 3 Mins. To 700 Atlantic Ave, Boston, Ma

This struck me as a little bit odd - why would I have to take the Red Line to JFK/UMass only to turn around and get on a train going the other way to get off at South Station? Well, I wasn't familiar with the Red Line; in fact, the only time I've ever taken the Red Line was later that night on my way back home again. At that point, I assumed you couldn't get off going outbound at South Station. So, I went with what I thought would be simpler - taking the Green Line to Boylston and walking. Well, it wasn't.

See, the Trip Planner doesn't give you walking directions unless you select "Print Itinerary," which I didn't know. And guess what? Instead of walking east on Boylston and then Essex, I walked north on Tremont, thinking I was actually walking EAST on Tremont. I got hopelessly lost, and after I finally found Atlantic Avenue (at the corner of Atlantic and Richmond), I managed to lose it again about five minutes later without realizing I'd changed streets.

There's a point to this rambling story, and the point is that the trip planner is total garbage. I'm not mad for the planner telling me to get off at Boylston and walk; that met the parameters I set, and it's my own fault for not walking the right direction to begin with. I'm pissed because, when I tried to make it so that I didn't have to walk, it made me go all the way to JFK/UMass and then get off and back on going the other way. Now that I actually know how the Red Line works (yes, you CAN stop at South Station in both directions), I have to ask: why even bother? If you can't do it right, maybe you shouldn't do it at all. That sentiment seems to be echoed throughout your blog.


PS - I got an itinerary from Park St to South Station on the Red Line. I wonder why it works when you don't change trains?

Take Red Line - Ashmont Sta To South Station
Approx. 1:45 PM Depart from Park St Station - to Ashmont/Braintree
Approx. 1:49 PM Arrive at South Station - Outbound
Welcome to Boston Jared. I actually will be in the Bay Area as of Monday evening.

The trip planner has way too many quirks about it to be considered reliable.

I just tried it and used the landmarks option and it did have an option for the Greyhound Station but guess what????? Here is what it just spit out

Take Green- D Line - Government Ctr To Boylston Station view route
Approx. 12:21 PM Depart from Brookline Village Station - Inbound Approx. 12:36 PM Arrive at Boylston Station - Inbound
Walk For 15 Mins. To Bus - Greyhound Terminal (boston)

Walk approx. 1 block E on Boylston St.Bear right on Boyleston Sq.Walk a short distance SE on Boyleston Sq.Turn right on Washington St.Walk a short distance S on Washington St.Turn left on Beach St.Walk approx. 3 blocks E on Beach St.

Again this used the default option of "minimize transfers" and "use all services". I pity the poor tourist with bags wandering around Chinatown looking for the bus station.

It really is time to take this planner off-line and go back to the old one until they can work these bugs out. It has been almost THREE months now.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - March 2nd - fare vending machine snafu

From the mailbag at

all Shelby wanted to do was buy a monthly pass

You would think that by now that the MBTA would realize they are going to have increased use of their kiosks on the 1st of each month as users purchase monthly passes. Why then does it seem that the kiosks will never link to the credit card or debit card system on the first morning of each month. Shouldn't the MBTA increase their bandwidth to the system at this time each month? I spent 20 minutes in line yesterday only to go through the system,wait for it to authorize my account, for it to say it couldn't connect. So I asked the guard what I should do and his only response to me and everyone around me was to use cash.

Like most people I don't carry wads of cash around with me anymore. So I put 2 dollars in, enough to get me to work and left very frustrated. Many people didn't have any cash on them at all and it took the guard 5-10 minutes before he realized he would have to start letting people through. If he knew all this was going on, why didn't he make anannouncement to the crowd that the credit/debit card system was down?This would have helped alleviate the confusion and frustration.To add to my frustration I checked my bank balance today and sure enough I was charged $59 for a T-Link pass which I do not have on my Charlie Card. I then had to spend 30 minutes on the phone with my bank to get the charges reversed. I encourage anyone who experience the same issue I did yesterday to check their bank balance just in case. I wish I could bill my lost time to the MBTA.


Shelby you are not alone with this problem as I have heard from three other commuters who were charged for a pass that wasn't issued either.

This logjam at the machines "should" improve when the T finally allows people to update their card on the T's website but given what has happened the past 2 months with the new website you have to wonder if it will be able to handle the traffic. I am looking forward to just having the T automatically charge my bankcard every month but last I heard that is "sometime in the spring"

David ponders one of the T's great mysteries
The sight of three number 1 buses traveling together down Mass Ave in Cambridge (or on virtually any other bus line for that matter) has become such a common sight that many people might just dismiss it and not ask, how can three buses possibly be backed up together? Rumor has it that, surprise, it is not just mere coincidence but, rather, the result of bus drivers who park their buses together to have a coffee break! What with camera phones and all, have you seen any pictures offered by riders of these bus driver tea parties?
I have always thought they have a card game going.

The worst route for this might well be the #66. Since they added buses at rush hour in late December I have regularly seen 3 and sometimes FOUR buses bunched together. One thing I noticed in Chicago is the CTA does have inspectors standing along the route and will hold a bus to prevent bunching. The T said they WERE going to do this starting with the December 30th schedule change but I have yet to see an inspector on the #66.

T Tales: Friday woes reported all over the system

We received several reports at that Friday morning didn't go very well for some commuters.

Adam reports of a major snafu at Natick
Several months ago, I wrote in to MBCR customer service expressing my concern for the horrendous track and platform conditions at Natick Station (inbound track 2). I was given some lip service about being aware of these issues but despite the fact that the tracks have not stopped flooding for FOUR months, of course nothing was done about it.

Today, March 2, the steady rain caused high water and the track became impassible. Somehow, no one notified the engineer of train P514 who stopped the train just short of the station, reversed direction, and showed up on the opposite track 60 minutes later (having had to back up all the way to Framingham to switch tracks!).

To make matters worse, none of the passengers waiting at Natick or other inbound stations had any information about the delay, as the SmartTraveler line and LED boards did not report any delays to the line, and the MBTA customer support representative I spoke with told me there were "no problems" on the line.

How can any of this be considered acceptable? All of these delays COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED while simple communication, which is frequently promised but NEVER delivered, failed miserably.
Is it any wonder that the Framingham/Worcester line has suffered the largest decline in ridership? This sounds like another classic CSX horror story as they dispatch the commuter rail trains on that line from Albany, NY.

Sue from Newton writes about the D Line Friday morning
It was (as forecast) raining hard and very windy in
Greater Boston, pouring rain onto slush, so I wasn’t
surprised when I came down to the Newton Centre T this
morning to find a crew of T representatives zooming
about. Some of them with road cones. Uh-oh.

According to one rep there were wires down on the
line. They were running trains inbound and shuttle
buses out to Riverside.

The train went inbound OK, except that instead of
switching tracks before the Reservoir platform, for
some reason the train passed the platform; the driver
shut the train down and switched to the other end;
drove the train back to the right past the platform;
changed ends again; and drove out to Government
Center. Weird, inefficient and unexplained, but no
problem for the passengers other than a few minutes’

A friend of mine who also lives on the D / Riverside
line did not have my luck. When he came to the
station the T was not only running shuttle buses both
ways, but making people wait down Langley Road, in the
driving cold rain far from the station and shelter,
for the buses. (Obviously this was a different crew
from the one a couple weeks ago that offered to let
passengers get on the buses to get out of the weather.
What, did they get in trouble for accommodating
passenger comfort? Or did the bus drivers just not
feel like going through the turn-around on Union
Street in front of the station?) There was a long
wait for the buses and also a long wait for a train at
Reservoir, where many, many people were waiting. The
train had to be packed like a sardine can when it
finally arrived.

They never seem to anticipate these problems.

Incidents like this will become especially fun when
they start running the new Breda cars (which seat
about half as many people and have an upper and lower
level connected by steps -- increasing the chances
people can fall) on the Riverside line.
I also heard from John, Kathie and Bill with similar stories.

Zachary reports the trackless trolleys on Mt Auburn St were having a bad day as well
Hiya, Charlie,

This morning at about 9:15, the 71 and 73 buses, which run from Harvard Square to Watertown Square and Waverly Square, respectively, stopped running. At first we all thought it was our own individual bus. Then I noticed another bus about 100 yards ahead, had also stopped. The driver said that they had lost power to the overhead trolley lines. She said there was no word on whether a 'relief' bus would come to pick up stranded passengers, saying, "they wouldn't tell me that, anyway."

I was able to call my boss, who came to pick me up. I was going outbound, which means you pay as you disembark, but either the power to the Charlie boxes was out, or the driver didn't care, because everyone who left did so without paying. As my boss and I drove down Mt. Auburn St, we saw dozens of buses that were simply sitting there with nowhere to go, the passengers either stubbornly remaining on board or running to the nearby Shaw's. This was about 20 minutes after the buses stopped initially.

There never was a travel advisory on the T website. Nothing indicating that any delay had occurred. Of course, things may have got rolling soon afterwards, but those buses may still be out there - I'm trying to figure it out before I sit out in the rain for a bus that won't come! Tried calling the MBTA switchboard, but apparently Friday afternoon is their "heavy call volume" time - is that some sort of joke?

Anyway, another T Tale. Thanks for your great blog!
It does appear that the T doesn't have a fluid system in place to get delay information from the High Street operations center posted onto the web. We have seen the same delays in updating info ( when they even bother ) on the Commuter Rail. The T promises that soon we will have SMS updates and real time tracking of buses on the website. I'm not holding my breath given the failure the T has had on the Silver Line doing so.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charlie's First 30 Days - official MBTA report

Here is a link to the T's report to the MBTA Board of Directors on how the new Charlie system performed in January.


When this report first came out we discussed it and linked to the news coverage at the time. At first we thought the 86% figure seemed high but there was some confusion in the initial Globe story and later in the day the Metro had a better read on it.

If nothing else the report is making it clear people are using the card ( especially bus riders ) to get the lower fares and transfers.

HERALD:T acts to speed up gripe resolutions

The Herald writes that the T's new Customer Support Center is now open.
The MBTA has opened a new Customer Support Center to handle a two-fold increase in the number of complaints it has received over the past five years.

The new center at 10 Park Plaza in Boston marks the T’s attempt to centralize customer-service staff at headquarters to respond to riders’ issues more quickly.

“It should be incumbent on us to do the legwork, to get the answers to people’s questions, so that they don’t have to hunt around a bureaucracy,” General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said.

GLOBE:With software glitch, it was 'Sorry, Charlie'

The T admits there was a major problem with the faregates at CHARLES-MGH
Hundreds of passengers who passed through the Red Line's Charles/MGH station had their monthly passes rejected over the past two days due to a software glitch at the station's new fare collection gates, T officials said yesterday.

Officials said the problem was fixed before rush hour last night.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - February 28th new LED signs at Park and another T map option

from the mailbag at

Ben noticed a new addition at Park Street
Not sure if anyone has told about this but this morning when I got
off the D Line at Park St. (heading inbound) I noticed a taped off
portion to the left of the exit. Right above it was what appeared to
be a brand-new electronic signboard that looks like it would support
2 lines of text. Perhaps the T is going to give us signboards for
when the next train will arrive? Now it was near the entrance to the
Red Line stairs so maybe its for that.
I'll try to snap a picture on my way home, assuming I don't get
arrested for it!
We can only hope. The T can not be oblivious to the positive coverage NYC Transit has been getting as they slowly introduce arrival boards in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Riders WANT that information even if Daniel Grabauskas doesn't think we need the info as he told the Globe last May.
As he outlined the new, $35 million system in comments at Back Bay station, the announcements for inbound and outbound trains were coming in loud and clear on the platforms and in the upstairs lobby, giving about 1 minute advance notice on inbound trains and 2 minutes on outbound train.

That should help riders rushing to catch a train from a lobby and passengers who have been waiting for more than several minutes, T officials said.

The system can count down the minutes until a train arrives, but Grabauskas said that isn't necessary.

''You don't need 15 minutes lead time for a rapid transit train," he said. ''If you know you have enough time to get down the stairs, that may be all the information our customers need.
But then in October of 2006 Grabauskas said the following during a chat on
Daniel_Grabauskas: Similar to the activity in subway to update the sound system and add sign boards we are working to make the commuter rail sign boards give better information. The new system which we are working on will make next train announcements and count down for the next train as well as delay information. I share your frustration that the old system gives very limited information and sometimes not accurate. This project to upgrade is out for public bid right now and should be constructed within the next two years.
So maybe he has changed his mind and does plan to offer this info in the subway. In that chat he offered an email address for riders to write into him.
please contact me directly at
Perhaps if enough of us write into him asking about real time announcements in the subway will will get an answer.

Lou passes on another map option for T riders and it is pretty good.
I saw the mention of Google beginning to include T stations on their maps on your blog and figured I would pass this along.

Sometime my freshman year of school at Northeastern, I went searching for a map of the T system that was laid out on an actual street map, because while I was getting accustomed to Boston itself, I found the T’s maps to be of very little use. Also, I am a bit of a map enthusiast in general. I found one especially good candidate for use and it proved to be very helpful in my exploration of the city:

This is laid out on a google maps image anyway and retains the total functionality, as well as listing station info when you click on a stop:

I don’t know if you knew about that map or even if you have posted about it previously, but I take every chance I get to let those who know surprisingly little about the T in relation to Boston street layout know about this.

Thanks for the tip and if we haven't mentioned this link before we are happy to do so now.

Mayor wants Copley Station renamed to Copley-BPL - T may not be happy about it

Jake wrote the mailbag at concerning a turf battle between Mayor Menino and the T
Big fan of your blog.

Anyways, I'm an Emerson student and was looking for
help writing a paper on the current BPL/Copley naming
debate in the Mayor's 2007 agenda. Are there reasons
why the MBTA has put up such resistance to such an
idea? Is there an economic impact to such a
renaming...that type of stuff.
I have to admit this is the first I had heard of this so I did a little searching. The Mayor has indeed filed a bill with the legislature to rename Copley to Copley/BPL ( Boston Public Library )

Mayor Menino’s Legislative Initiatives
for the 2007-2008 Legislative Session

An Act Relative to the MBTA’s Copley Station – This legislation would change the name of Copley MBTA Station to “Copley/BPL Station” to reflect the influence and
contributions of the Boston Public Library in the Back Bay area.

The only reason the T might be against this is the cost of reprinting maps and putting up new signs in the station, but since the station is currently being remodeled the signs shouldn't be an issue. Renaming stations has been done in the past at Kendall, Charles and Hynes ( and much earlier when Mechanics was renamed Prudential, Massachusetts was renamed Auditorium and then Hynes and Atlantic being renamed Aquarium )

If anyone has a little more background on this we would love to hear from you and help out Jake. Adding BPL (Boston Public Library) to the Copley name shouldn't be an issue.

Charlie on the CTA (Chicago) - UPDATED 2/28

As I have noted earlier I have been visiting Chicago the past few days ( I used to live here as well ) and have been using the Chicago Transit Authority to get around. The system to be kind is a mess.

Wednesday Update:

Wednesday morning I had a dreadful commute into the Loop as a trip that should have taken close to 30 minutes wound up being over an hour. I waited at the Granville Station for nearly 20 minutes and then a Purple Line train stopped to pick up passengers which is unusual as the Purple Line is supposed to run express from Howard Street to Belmont Avenue. The Purple Line train ran local along the Red Line until Belmont where passengers were then told to wait for a Red Line train headed south on the other track. It was another 20 minutes before a train appeared and it was packed.

Just in the past few days the local media has had numerous stories about transit problems in the area. A sample

Audit: Overhaul the RTA

Oversight of mass transit in the Chicago region is deeply flawed, hobbled by weak leadership, competition instead of cooperation between the transit agencies, wasteful duplication of services and skewed priorities, according to a state audit report.

Slow zones lead to Blue Line blues

Nearly 2 miles of slow zones have been eliminated on the CTA Blue Line in the last six months, yet riders complain their travel times are growing longer.

That's because track conditions on the O'Hare and Dearborn Street subway sections of the Blue Line are deteriorating faster than the Chicago Transit Authority can fix them, officials say.

The reason? There's no money.

On the northside of the city there is major track work being done that is causing long delays on the Red, Brown and Purple lines. Riders are of course upset and you can sense the frustration of the blog which was the inspiration of our Charlie blog. I had a nice meeting with Kevin O'Neil who is the author of the CTA Tattler on Saturday as we solved the transit problems in both cities.

Chicago has major infrastructure problems that Boston doesn't have yet but it is something to keep an eye on. Boston at least never allowed the subway system to deteriorate the way it has in Chicago. The subway stations on the Blue Line which opened in 1951 look like they haven't been cleaned in 30 years. The subway stations on the Red Line which opened 10 years earlier are now being rehabbed and the completed stations look good. However the Red Line 'L on the northside is crumbling and needs to be addressed ASAP before a disaster happens. The northside elevated does not run over streets but as a separate concrete viaduct and it is obvious that much repair work needs to be done.

Chicago went to "automatic fare collection" about 10 years ago and has also in the past few years started a "smartcard" system similar to CharlieCard called Chicago Card. It does offer discounted fares like Charlie ($1.75 for rail instead of $2) and it costs $5 to purchase ( similar to Washington ) and offers a reloading bonus similar to New York where if you put $20 on the card you get credit for $22 in fares. However my biggest gripe with the Chicago FVM's is they do not accept credit or debit cards for payment as is done in Boston, New York, Washington and other major cities. Chicago installed their equipment from Cubic at the same time New York was upgrading their system for MetroCard so it appears the CTA didn't want to pay the fees associated with bank cards. The faregates themselves are the same as those used in New York City.

The Chicago "rail cars" are the same size (about 48 feet long) as those you will find on the Blue Line in Boston or PATH between New Jersey and Manhattan. An eight car train in Chicago is equal to a six car train on the Red or Orange Lines where cars are about 20 feet longer. The cars are much older than Boston but new vehicles have been ordered and they will feature "New York" style bench seating ( which we have on our subway lines ) which has some riders in Chicago upset. Overall I have found the service to be "ok" with the exception of Saturday night after waiting 40 minutes for a train at the Morse station I went looking for a cab. Chicago was having a minor snow-ice storm at the time and it was causing problems on the Red Line. The CTA kept announcing delays for "defective equipment and weather problems" but never said when a train might arrive. I have also experienced slow moving trains but this is a problem the CTA admits will continue into 2009 as major track work must be done.

Concerning the buses in Chicago the CTA needs new buses fast. They haven't upgraded the fleet in quite a few years and many routes still have the workhorse RTS buses now being retired in Boston. However I have found the bus service more than adequate and it generally runs on schedule. The CTA does have inspectors stationed along major routes to make changes as needed.

I also have found the drivers to be MUCH FRIENDLIER overall from Boston. Check out this clip I made Sunday on the #36 Broadway bus. Notice how the driver says "Good Evening" to everyone that boards.

One thing Chicago is light years ahead of Boston are with the computer announcements on buses and trains. The CTA decided to use an actor known for "voice over work" instead of a computer voice the T currently uses on buses and the Green Line. In Chicago he is known as "Happy CTA Guy" and he gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune a few years back.

"Belmont is next! Standing passengers -- please do not lean against the doors!"

It just sounds so much better than the T's computer voice that on some trains and buses still can not pronounce Lechmere correctly. The CTA has also started real time bus tracking on select routes which is something the T has failed miserably on.

Chicago is a world class city that needs a world class public transportation system. Hopefully they can solve their problems. Sadly they have a mayor who is more interested in the 2016 Olympics than people getting to and from work.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - February 27th

checking the mailbag at

Kelly gets another "free ride" on the Framingham-Worcester line

Greetings Charlie,

This morning was the second time this week (and it’s only Tuesday!) that my ticket was not checked and fares were not collected on the 707AM train out of Worcester bound for South Station. Now, I am always happy to get a free ride, but isn’t the MBTA in major debt? Doesn’t every $7 fare help? Just food for thought…

I take it you don't have a monthly pass.

I only take Commuter Rail occasionally and I know the train leaving Providence at 8:10 PM they NEVER check for tickets which is surprising since the ticket window in Providence is closed for that train. What is odd is that the conductors do sell tickets for passengers getting on in South Attleboro, Attleboro etc (The T has to use the coffee shop there to sell tickets as Amtrak will not sell MBCR tickets.) I am actually surprised a fare vending machine hasn't shown up in Providence yet. I have also asked comductors when they will accept CharlieCards on the train and they shrug.

David is having problems with his LinkPass

I’ve been having problems with my LinkPass since entering at Charles/MGH on Sunday. The customer service person I spoke with this morning told me that the gates at Charles/MGH caused the problem and that for the next two days, I have to have an agent let me through. I’ve been told the problem should be fixed March 1st . I wonder how many people using a corporate purchased LinkPass are having the same problem?
It sounds like the fare gates are rewriting info on the chip. ( I assume you have a CharlieCard? ) I'll see if I can find out anything more.

Bram passes on a link of what Virgin Vacations ranks as the best 11 subway systems in the world.
I'm shocked that Boston didn't make the list :)

We're (meaning Boston) definitely not on this listTop 11 Underground transit systems in the world (as ranked by "Virgin Vacations")

finally Steve writes about "Student Charlie Card" problems
Ever since my father left for another state, I've had to rely on public transportation to get to and from my school. I am a student who uses carpooling to my local commuter rail station, then bus to my school. The afternoons are the reverse, with the exception that I must find a way from the station or nearby restaurant to my house -- another few miles away.

I originally planned for my use of the bus systems with the acquisition of a Student Charlie Card from my school. I thought it would be a great idea, but the confusion it has caused among MBTA workers has made it a nightmare.

I originally tried to put money on my Student CharlieCard on that Monday, having the usual $20 big bills I get for lunch money and transportation for the rest of the week. I found out that you can't add $20 onto a Student CharlieCard at once for some reason, and had to add the value to a CharlieTicket instead. This turned into future problems when I found out my bus operator has to press the "Student" button, and I have to provide identification every time I use the bus.

I've used my ticket for a while now, and its been OK, but I took the opportunity when I was in North Station to add value to my Student CharlieCard. My plaguing question for every MBTA worker has been whether or not the Student CharlieCard requires student ID to be used, and whether the operator needs to press the reduced fare button, or will the card automatically give the reduced fare.

The bus driver for my route that day told me that I need to do identification, even if I use the Student CharlieCard, in order to get the student rate. People on the phone line told conflicting information, and expressed confusion. Workers at North Station also expressed confusion.

I decided to try it myself, and found out that the Student CharlieCard automatically gives the reduced rate at the appropriate times, and does not require a student ID. This led me to another problem with the system.

I now have two cards for the MBTA system, a CharlieTicket, which is hard to use because of bus drivers who don't press the student fare button for you, and a really convenient Student CharlieCard. I want to move my value from the ticket to the card, but I was told on the phone that I need to do this in Downtown Crossing, far out of the way from my neighborhood near Salem and Beverly.

Another related problem is that I cannot find any nearby automated machines to add value to my Student CharlieCard without using the systems on busses. I read an article about some busses who have the white "Add Value" button disabled for interest of smaller wait times. If my bus was disabled, and it was my only way to add value, I would be out of luck.

Overall, I really like the CharlieCard system, but there are certain flaws that could have been taken care of better. There needs to be more convenient ways for people to manage their card values, including merging tickets to the card. It's great how all of these services are available in metro-Boston, but for people stuck in the North Shore and outlying areas, we really have the short end of the stick on this new system. Besides the waiting in the freezing cold for a taxi for 20 minutes because of the poor design of Salem Station, and CharlieCard troubles and mass-confusions, the system is somewhat OK for the average commuter. Besides, what's cooler than waving your wallet next to a machine and watching doors magically open in front of you?

Does the student CharlieCard have your photo on it similar to the Senior/Disabled smart card?

I am also hearing that indeed some buses HAVE disabled the adding value to a CharlieCard because too many boxes have been simply eating the fare and the T doesn't want to go to the bother of fixing the machines. If anyone has more info on the fareboxes please share it with us.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - February 26th - bus complaints

Charlie is still riding the CTA in Chicago and if you think Boston has problems.....I'll post more on that later but the situation in the Windy City concerning transit is not good.

from the mailbag at

Umer is not happy with the 503 bus

For almost as long as I have been riding the 503 express bus (2 years), it
has always had an issue with being on-time. Recently, it has gotten to the
point where the scheduled bus doesn't even show up which means I have to
wait for another half-hour for the next one. Even then, sometimes that one
is late 15 minutes and this reflects heavily on my tardiness to class. I go
to BU Medical School and I rely on this bus to be punctual since it serves
an area of Boston that is mostly employed by professionals (Copley area).

One of my major problems with the 503 is that it has an even shorter route
than the 501 yet the 501 comes (exactly as written on schedule) every 5
minutes during the morning. I do not see any reason for the 503 which runs
EVERY 20 MINUTES to not be on time.

I am really disappointed in this service.

I am not familiar with the 503 but one look at the inbound/outbound schedule shows that the T has no margin for error on that route. That maybe the root cause of your problems.
503 - EXPRESS BUS Brighton Center - Copley Sq. via Oak Sq. & Mass. Turnpike

Anne grumbles about the #39 bus
Does anybody know if the T has cut back on the number of buses on the #39 route inbound from Jamaica Plain? Many mornings I have waited 15-20 minutes for a bus that is scheduled to arrive every 5 minutes.

I was under the impression that the T added buses to that route on December 30th. Perhaps one of our bus gurus has the scoop.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A horrific T story reported in the Sunday Globe

Mac Daniel writes about a situation that will make anyone shudder

The following story made us cringe.

"I am reporting a traumatic incident that occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 10:30 a.m.," wrote Sharon of Melrose.

"My 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and 8-month-old daughters, 74-year-old mother, and I were preparing to board a Green Line trolley leaving Government Center heading toward North Station. Since we and many other families were traveling at this time to attend Disney on Ice, we were following other families boarding the trolley.

"My 7-year-old boarded, and I was immediately behind her bending down to lift my 8-month-old [who was in a stroller] onto the trolley. To my horror, the driver closed the door on me and my 8-month-old. [My 5-year-old daughter and my mother were immediately behind me].

"Being in a state of shock that a door was closing on me, and not wanting my 8-month-old to be hurt by the closing door, I backed up. The door then closed with my 7-year-old on the train. I panicked. I banged on the door and screamed that my daughter was on the train -- but to no avail. The train proceeded on.

"Thanks to an off-duty police officer from Maine who was on the trolley with my daughter, as well as the MBTA inspector at Government Center who alerted the driver to wait at Haymarket, I was reunited with my daughter in a relatively short amount of time.

"According to the MBTA's Customer Bill of Rights, 'safety is [its] top priority.' Safety was not on this employee's mind," Sharon wrote. "The drivers of buses and trolleys are the T's customer service representatives. If this person was not paying attention to the people boarding the trolley, or felt that he or she was there long enough and wanted to go, then this person should not have this job. Either way, he or she was negligent. Since this is not the first incident that I've seen of doors closing on a person with a child, I'm starting to wonder if safety really is the T's 'top priority.' "

The T responded quickly when told of this late Friday and promised to investigate. The inspector who helped reunite the family talked with Green Line managers about the incident, and they were tracking down the trolley's operator, who will be disciplined if it is determined that rules were violated.

T policy is that drivers are to close train doors only if they are clear of anyone. "This woman's report is very troubling," T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. "We're thankful that the mother and daughter were safely reunited."

"The MBTA does not condone the operator's actions as you described in your e-mail, and I can offer no excuse for the operator's performance," Alfred A. Ricko, supervisor of the Green Line, wrote to Sharon in an e-mail sent Friday afternoon. "I am also a father and can understand the anxiety you surely experienced as a result of being separated from your child."

We called Sharon last week and asked about her daughter. "She was horrified at the time, but now she can't wait to tell all her friends," she said. But on the return trip home, given a choice between the Orange and Green lines, she said her daughter chose the Orange.
This is a story that has to be followed up.

I have never seen anything like this happen but I have seen drivers closing the doors at Government Center when passengers are still trying to board the train. Perhaps the T should install a closed circuit monitor so drivers can see exactly what is happening on the platform so something like this can not happen again.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

T in the media - February 24th edition

scanning the newswires to find how local media is covering the T the past few days

MBTA Police Discover MySpace, Criminals Bostonist, MA -
The Globe brings us a story of crime fighting success by the MBTA police. The T has installed a number of cameras in subway and bus stations over the last ...

Sinkhole on Newton bridge affects MBTA service
WHDH-TV, MA - Feb 23, 2007 An MBTA spokesman says the T will bus passengers between the Reservoir and Riverside trolley stops on the Green Line's D branch this morning because of the ...

Finding the new Charles/MGH Station
Bostonist, MA - Feb 22, 2007 The MBTA opened up the new Charles/MGH stop last weekend. Among the changes to the station the most notable is pedestrian and handicapped access to the ...

BC plans stress unifying campus, improving traffic
Allston-Brighton TAB, MA - Feb 22, 2007 Dumont presented artist’s renderings of the plan, which includes a 400-foot-long MBTA stop in the middle of the road, and an elevated pedestrian walkway ...

A breakdown of train, and communication
Boston Globe, MA - Feb 22, 2007... was still obstinately insisting that train service was 'on or near schedule,' " he wrote in an e-mail he sent to MBTA management and shared with us. ...

Train crushes commuter's foot at Concord Depot
Concord Journal, MA - Feb 21, 2007 A Leominster man sustained serious non-life threatening injuries from a MBTA train when he slipped at the Concord Depot on Wednesday morning, according to ...

Attempted Suicide at Harvard T Station
Harvard Crimson, MA - Feb 21, 2007 According to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) police Lieutenant Salvatore L. Venturelli, the man—whom he described as a Caucasian male in ...

Man accused of exposing self
Daily News Transcript, MA - Feb 20, 2007 WESTWOOD - A Norwood man is being held on $5000 cash bail after police said he was caught exposing himself to a woman on an MBTA bus Thursday afternoon. ...

GLOBE: Commuter rail plan is met with protests

Mac Daniel writes on Saturday how residents of the Town of Easton are not happy with a proposed Commuter Rail extension through their town.
The final route will largely determine if and when it gets built. Murray and Governor Deval Patrick promised during their campaign to extend rail service to the South Coast, but the administration has released few details about the timing or financing. On April 4, the state is scheduled to release its plan for the project, which is estimated to cost more than $800 million.

Is this going to become another Greenbush fiasco?

800 million is a lot of money for a system that says it is broke. Certainly it would be nice to have rail service to New Bedford and Fall River and for that matter Cape Cod as well but the reality is the South Coast has bus service now that seems to meet the demand from those cities. That 800 million could be put to far better use on the existing system.

Maybe it is time for the Commonwealth to consider running the Commuter Rail as a separate entity from the MBTA. To this observer it seems as though Commuter Rail gets far more attention than the core subway and bus in the city when you consider the number of passengers served. Keep in mind the reason the MBTA was created in the first place in 1964 was to help save the existing Commuter Rail service into Boston. That is no longer an issue but the reality is T service inside 128 is the worst it has been in decades.